JJ 12/93:The Mark Varney Project: Truth In Shredding & Centrifugal Funk

Thirty years ago Mark Gilbert enjoyed the spectacular playing of Holdsworth, Gambale and others in Mark Varney's 1990-1 fusion-guitar summits. First published in Jazz Journal December 1993


Mark Varney doesn’t appear as a player on these records; rather he is a producer with a special enthusiasm for jazz-rock guitar players, and these are two of sev­eral similar sessions he has initi­ated.

Truth In Shredding is especially interesting not only for the acres of solo space it gives to two of today’s most outstanding guitarists but also for presenting Holdsworth in a more tonal and modal setting than usual. A stipu­lation of the players’ contracts was that a fixed and generous percentage of each track should be allotted to guitar soloing, so both players have ample oppor­tunity to demonstrate their styles, Gambale filling his time with the supersonic sweep-picking that has become his trademark, and Holdsworth dividing his attention between his oboe-like Synthaxe voice and his own characteristic legato guitar style.

The material is almost all covers – of Brecker Brothers, Chick Corea and Wayne Shorter tunes – and the result is an invitation to fusion guitar glut­tony. It’s easy to become blasé about the virtuosity of these players when the music is as con­sistently good as it is here, but judged by any objective stan­dards it remains quite remark­able.

The rhythms on Truth are fairly fluid, varying between swing, rock and Latin, but the com­panion volume is let down by much more rigid drumming. Nevertheless, proceedings begin brilliantly, with bassist Jimmy Earl’s slamming revision of Herbie Hancock’s cult funk stan­dard Actual Proof. Kicked along by Mike O’Neill’s beautifully crisp rhythm guitar work, Gambale and Tavaglione show great skill and flair in negotiating the tune’s unusual chord progression and tricky 5/4 and 7/4 bars. The album is basically a vehicle for grand prix guitar players, and there are some very impressive shows of technique from Garsed and Lane as well as Gambale, but in due course the orgy of guitar pyrotechnics, like the relentless backbeat drumming, becomes wearying.

Extraordinary playing all the same, and anybody with a taste for contemporary funk should hear Actual Proof.

[Truth In Shredding] Rocks; Humpty Dumpty; The Fall; Not Ethiopia; New Boots; Ana Maria; Bathsheba (55.12)
Frank Gambale, Allan Holdsworth (g, elg. Synthaxe); Steve Tavaglione (s, EWI); Freddy Ravel (kyb); Jimmy Earl (elb); Tommy Brechtlein (d). Los Angeles, Tustin, and Costa Mesa, Ca, c. 1990.
(Heading West HW 652507)
[Centrifugal Funk] Actual Proof; So What; Hey Tee Bone; Tokyo Blue; Splatch; Elegant People; Lane’s Blitz; Lovestruck (61.22)
Frank Gambale, Brett Garsed, Shawn Lane, Mike O’Neill (elg); Steve Tavaglione (s, EWI); Freddy Ravel (kyb); Jimmy Earl (elb); Joey Heredia (d); Kevin Ricard (pc). Costa Mesa, Ca and Memphis, Tenn., c. 1991.
(Heading West HW 652508)